By Tim Posada, 5/10/2012
If I hear another naive comparison between “The Avengers” and “Transformers” I’m gonna get angry…and you won’t like me when I’m angry. This epic saga is a corrective to all soulless actioners that replace acting with recitation and coherent special effects with convoluted and confusing CGI. Here comes sophomore director Joss Whedon to save the day with a superhero film worth its $220 million budget.Never has a film like this attempted such a lofty storyline. With only 140 minutes, we’re introduced to a slew of characters from five other related films: “Iron Man”, “The Incredible Hulk”, “Iron Man 2”, “Thor” and “Captain America”. First, we say hello to the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the dry witted operative we first met in “Iron Man” who tends to show up in the other films; Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, Robin from “How I Met Your Mother”), the right hand of S.H.I.E.L.D.; Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), who goes by Hawkeye and has a keen eye for a bow and arrows to match his name; Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), code-named Black Widow, who’s twice as deadly as she is beautiful; and the mighty leader, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), rocking an eye patch and leather trench coat.
Exhausted already? Welp, we’ve still got our four leading characters – Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) – and the film’s primary villain, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Much of “The Avengers” features the characters’ rocky assemblage and final battle against the God of Mischief and his army of alien soldiers, the Chitauri. We all know where this film is going, but the fun and humor of the journey make it all the more enjoyable.
Back for a third full film, Robert Downey, Jr. is a comforting presence and oh-so hysterical on screen. We get plenty of laughs from other sources, but it’s hard to ignore the dashing Tony Stark. When other superhero flicks attempted sincerity, the Iron Man kept things lighthearted and now he shines with so many kindred spirits in a film that takes Downey, Jr. comedy to the new soaring heights.
The real gem lies in the interaction between the main characters. We’ve seen all of them in their solo films, but they truly are better together. While many were disappointed when Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton as Hulk, but Ruffalo plays the part even better, doing the one thing Norton cannot, humor. Stark’s banter clashes well with Cap’s seriousness, and Thor’s demi-godliness is always a splendid juxtaposition to more grounded endeavors. Black Widow and Hawkeye, the de-powered members of the team, also get their on-screen due. With so many characters, it’s remarkable to see them all get equal screen time, shaming any of the “X-Men” films’ fickle attempts at balanced coverage.
While Whedon only directed one film prior (“Serenity”), he’s been around the block for some time. He’s no stranger to superheroes, serving as a writer for Marvel Comics series like “X-Men” and “Runaways”, creating supervillain web sensation, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” and was considered to helm “Batman” and “Wonder Woman” film projects. And let’s not forget his television babies, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel”, “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” which all continue in comic book form. He is king of geekdom, and “The Avengers” solidifies his empire.
In true Whedon form, the dialogue is splendidly witty with action sequences equally riddled with laughs that add to the intensity of the final 30 minutes’ spectacle. The humor is clearly reminiscent of “Iron Man” and “Thor” while other moments are straight out of “Looney Toons”, especially with the Hulk. Hands down, the surprise of the film is the angry green giant, who steals the show with some of the finest smashes in film history and several unexpected hilarious moments.
While “The Dark Knight” accomplishes very different goals, “The Avengers” is with it in the top two superhero films. It’s as fun as “The Dark Knight” is gritty. The storyline only works if you’ve seen the five films leading up to this moment, and for many of faithful voyeurs, that’s not a stretch. “The Avengers” is the beginning of an exciting cinematic transition: films that challenge the three-act structure and require us to examine them based on previous film knowledge. Like old friends who meet every year or two and continue the same conversations as if little time has passed, this rather unique sixth film is the much-needed high school reunion we actually want to attend.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been this satisfied by a superhero film and left with such an aching desire for a sequel. While most superhero films take too long to get to the point, “The Avengers” makes introducing the characters the point. All hail Whedon for creating a film for the fans and new audiences alike.